Jennifer's diet did not work out. Maybe it was because she wasn't motivated enough. The idea to shed 10 pounds was inspired by a comment by Frank about how an extra helping of Cook's Shepard's Pie looked good stuffed into her jeans. Jennifer ran from the room and Frank looked puzzled until Leslie scolded him for insensitivity. He chased Jennifer upstairs where we couldn't hear his apology, but it could not have been very good because Jennifer stayed in her room until dinner. She placed her hands over her plate to prevent Cook from filling it with Spaghetti Cabonara, selecting a sampling of vegetables from the cruditÃ© platter instead. We all muttered encouragements around mouthfuls of pasta to support our friend while she crunched through the meal with a desultory smile.
Jennifer is strong willed and disciplined, but she had two forces stacked against her. The first was that she is not that overweight. A fat person can lose 10 pounds with a bit of change of diet and some exercise. Someone with a few extra pounds has to work hard to get rid of each ounce of spare weight. Jennifer had the strength to work off the stubborn excess under normal conditions, but the second force she was fighting was the constant stream of deliciousness that Cook pushed out of the stoned soup kitchen. In normal times there are temptations of taste and smell filling the house, but Cook has a thing for curvy women and he stepped up his game to keep Jennifer looking just the way he liked.
She held out through roast chicken, lamb gyros, authentic New England lobster rolls and an onion soup that transformed the dining room into a Paris bistro. Jennifer stayed home, munching raw vegetables and spreading thin smears of sugar free jam on rice cakes. As strong as she is, Cook turned out to be more persistent. After the onion soup failed to win her over, he returned to the kitchen with a spark of an idea.
He gathered an impressive pile of ingredients on the counter and placed a large saucepan of oil on the stove. His knives came out and in an instant an onion was reduced to a pile of tiny cubes. A pickle met a similar fate and then a few garlic cloves were chopped and smashed by the side of the knife. In a small bowl, Cook mixed the onions, pickle and garlic with some mayonnaise, lemon juice and paprika. Cook covered the bowl and popped in the fridge. A quick check of the oil temp told him that he had time to cut a few potatoes into thin strings. I like fat fries, but my suggestion was met with a dangerous growl, so I backed off. The oil was 320 degrees, just right for cook to blanch the potatoes in batches. They were still pale when cook scooped them from the oil and let them drain on a paper towel covered plate.
When the potatoes were done, he turned the heat up a bit and went back to the counter to make a batter from flour, cornstarch, seasonings and dark beer. The cornstarch, he explained, was the secret to making a crunchy coating. He laid out a bowl of batter, a plate of seasoned flour and a pile of fish fillets. He also had the blanched potatoes handy and pulled a plate of yellow balls from the fridge. "Hushpuppies," he said to answer my quizzical look. There was a twinkle in his eye that told me that they had been enhanced with cannaoil. I started to get hungry.
When the oil hit 375 degrees, Cook put in a couple of hushpuppies. After about 5 minutes, they were deep brown and smelled divine. After the hush puppies, Cook finished the fries, giving them a golden crispy coat. Finally, he placed a fish fillet in the flour, moved it to the batter and then back to the flour before sliding it into the oil. It took about 8 minutes for the fish to float to the top and turn a perfect shade of brown. I really wanted to grab a bit of fish from the plate, but a look from cook warned me that if my hand went anywhere near the plate, he would cut it off.
Once everything was ready, Cook pulled out some serving baskets and made a lovely arrangement of fish, chips, hushpuppies and tartar sauce in each basket. I offered to carry them to the table, and popped a fry in my mouth on the way. The thin fries crunched nicely and gave off just a whiff of garlic and truffle. The salt and a trace of oil woke up every taste bud in my mouth so that I didn't even remember that I like the potato texture of fat fries. By the time I got to the table, half a dozen fries were missing from one of the baskets along with half a hushpuppy and a few flakes of fish.
I passed out the other baskets, apologizing to Jennifer and I placed the seductive food before her. She sighed loudly, thinking about the two pounds she had worked so hard to get rid of. I could see steam rising from the basket up to her nose where it swirled around until she gave in and stuffed a bundle of fries into her mouth. Cook smiled while he watched her from the first fries to the last bit of fish that she used to scrape up all the tarter sauce. Leslie and I congratulated both Cook and Jennifer for contributing to the meal and Frank apologized again, this time with a mouth full of hushpuppies.